On Monday, Hong Kong’s Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung announced that face masks would be mandatory in both indoor and outdoor public places from Wednesday, with offenders facing fines of up to 5,000 Hong Kong dollars ($645), although he didn’t specify how the new measure would be enforced.
People with “reasonable excuses” such as medical conditions or children under the age of two will be exempt, he added.
“The epidemic situation is critical,” Cheung said, adding that the next few weeks are extremely crucial for the city. “We are facing a high risk of community outbreak.”
Before Monday’s numbers were announced, Cheung said that over the past 14 days, 1,163 new cases had been recorded — and the origin of 492 of the infections could not be traced.
The new restrictions are the tightest rules yet introduced in Hong Kong, which had previously limited public gatherings to four people.
When asked why the city stopped short of imposing a complete lockdown — as other places around the world have done — Cheung said doing so would be too inconvenient, and said he thought the current measures were appropriate.
Sophia Chan, Hong Kong’s health secretary, said that authorities were aiming to expand testing. They planned to test sellers at 300 markets and around 14,000 minibus drivers.
Hong Kong’s outbreak
Despite Hong Kong’s proximity to mainland China — where the first cases of coronavirus were reported — the city has managed to keep its case count relatively low.
That success has been attributed to tight border rules that prevent non-residents from entering the city, efficient contact tracing, and residents’ willingness to practice good hygiene, wear masks and practice social distancing.
Earlier this month, authorities restricted gatherings to no more than four people, closed beaches, and required restaurants to close after 6 p.m., although take-out was allowed to continue.
On Sunday, Hong Kong’s Department of Health imposed new measures requiring crew members on goods vessels entering Hong Kong to remain on board the vessel during ship’s stay in Hong Kong waters.
Flight crews are also required to present a negative coronavirus test result 48 hours before boarding a flight to Hong Kong.
CNN’s Chermaine Lee and Isaac Yee contributed to this report.